The house of Dior has a long-standing relationship with artists, starting with Mr Christian Dior who spent years as a gallerist before his legendary stint as a couturier. Kim Jones, creative director of Dior Men carries on his legacy by bringing on board a different artist to collaborate with every season. For Dior Men's spring/summer 2020, he invites contemporary artist, Daniel Arsham to create scenography featuring fascinating monolithic sculptures for the collection.
We speak to Arsham about the inception of their friendship, his first memory of the house, and the process of exploring the maison's past to create pieces from the future for the present.
ESQ: Tell us more about the inception of future relics.
DANIEL ARSHAM: My work is about the reinvention and transformation of the everyday. I take objects, experiences, things that people are familiar with, and alter them either in their physicality—a transformation of material, from one material to another—or a dislocation of time for the viewer.
I’ve gone through a couple of different series of work. The fictional archaeological pieces are a way of bringing a viewer outside of their own moment in time. I’m taking something from their own experience—a camera, a computer, something that they connect with a particular moment—and I’m stretching that into a geological future, 1,000, 10,000 years from now. In this way, the works have a strong relationship with time, a kind of dislocation of linear time. I draw a lot of inspiration from travel, seeing different cultures and architecture and the way that people interact and place value and experience on objects and materials.
ESQ: What is your first memory of the house of Christian Dior?
DANIEL ARSHAM: I was struck by a lot of objects that were in the collection from Monsieur Dior’s house in the south of France. There was also a telephone from his desk as well as a clock that’s still in the atelier in Paris that can be seen in many of the photographs of Monsieur Dior working on collections. For me, this clock was the incarnation of an idea about time, about looking back into the archive and projecting that forward to a kind of future.
ESQ: Can you tell us more about the inception of this collaboration with Kim Jones? How did that conversation about working together begin?
DANIEL ARSHAM: I was familiar with Kim’s work, going back 10 or more years since his days in London and his early Umbro collaboration. I then followed his work during his time at Louis Vuitton, watching the way he would use the codes of that house, the interplay between tradition and craftsmanship that is expected from a luxury object.
And when Kim arrived at Dior with this new project to allow artists to come into the lineage and the rich history of the house, I followed that very closely. I was pleasantly surprised when he asked me to work with him on this collection. He and I have a number of mutual friends including both of the previous artists that he has worked with, as well as Matthew Williams and Yoon Ahn.
ESQ: Tell us more about the exploration into the archives of Dior. What was that like and what are some of your favourite memories about this process?
DANIEL ARSHAM: In my research about Christian Dior and during my visits to the archives, I was pleasantly surprised to find out about Monsieur Dior’s early life as a gallery owner. He was very much invested in the support of artists. I think that fashion has always had a long history and relationship with the visual arts.
During my discussions with Kim, he remarked to me that part of the main reason why he decided to work with artists is because of Christian Dior’s original fondness for the visual arts. He said: “I want to work with people that I think Christian Dior would have been interested in and worked with had he been alive today.”
ESQ: Tell us about the pieces that you created for this collection.
DANIEL ARSHAM: I settled on a couple of different elements: the telephone, the clock, the saddlebag that Kim brought to the men’s collection earlier last year, the Dior oblique print and the logo of the house. I went about experimenting with nearly 100 variations of cast objects, taking those original pieces and imagining them in their archaeological future.
The selection of materials was decided through conversations with Kim around colour and palette. The collection revolves around a pink quartz and a blue calcite, which are both geological elements, and then white and black. All very similar in many ways to my past work.
It was interesting for me to treat Dior much like I would treat any of the other iconic subjects that I’ve selected in my own work, such as a Leica camera, a Spalding basketball, a Jordan sneaker… All of these things that have a particular iconic relevance to a global audience. The work lies in bringing these objects into a sense of collapsing time.
ESQ: Material exploration is a big part of your work. How did Kim Jones and his team translate this ethos into the collection?
DANIEL ARSHAM: Kim understood from the beginning that the materiality of my work, the alchemical process and the transformation of one material to another is, in some ways, as important as the visual aspect of the work itself. When I make something in crystal or volcanic ash, those materials tell you something about the object that the visual quality of it cannot do by itself. So, Kim and his team spent a lot of time trying to find techniques, replicating some of those processes and ideas using materials within this collection.
ESQ: You have said that one of the things you enjoy about architecture is that you cannot tell when the architecture stops and the artwork begins. Is there an element of that in this collection?
DANIEL ARSHAM: We wanted to generate an experience for viewers and for the people watching online. The massive eroded Christian Dior initials that greet you outside look like sentinels placed outside a building, like a lion or something like that. But they’re also decayed and broken. I
’ve always said that my works use this idea of decay as an ambiguous quality because they appear to be disintegrating, but they are also made of materials like crystal that we associate with growth. So a viewer might have this conflicting view of them as to whether they’re falling apart or growing towards some kind of completion.
Kim and I were also infatuated with Christian Dior’s house; his office, the things he surrounded himself with. The audience enters through a complete recreation of Christian Dior’s office, but the room has been totally calcified using my artistic process. It’s almost as if you could go 1,000 years into the future and see this preserved scenario.
We also created some massive eroded Dior letters in keeping with this idea of transformation and decay. The ground on which the models walked during the runway show was made of sand in a gradient going from white to pink, and as they stepped through it, they destroyed its perfection and left their own trace.